Senators file bill banning states from enacting anti-union law

Three US senators–Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)–have introduced a bill that bans  state right-to-work laws.

The bill entitled Protecting Workers and Improving Labor Standards repeals section 14(b) of the Taft Hartley Act which gives states the authority to pass right-to-work laws.

To be clear, right-to-work laws have nothing to do with guaranteeing a job or protecting a person’s right to a job.

The purpose of so-called right-to-work laws has always been to weaken unions by limiting their funding.

“So-called right-to-work laws give corporations the ability to trample workers’ rights and dismantle unions. I refuse to let that happen,” said Sen. Brown. “At a time when Americans are working harder and earning less for the time they put in, we should be making it easier for workers to raise their voices and bargain for better wages and safer working conditions. Right to work is really right to work for less.”

Instead of protecting people’s right to work, these state laws protect free riders who enjoy the benefits and protections of a union-negotiated collective bargaining agreement but don’t want to pay union dues or a fair-share fee to help defray the cost of union representation.

The Economic Policy Institute reports that the impact of right–to-work laws is clear–workers in states that have right-to-work laws are paid 3.1 percent less than their counterparts in non-right-to-work states.

That means that when you take into account all the variables including cost-of-living differences among states, the average worker in a right-to-work state makes $1558 less a year than the average worker in a state that doesn’t have right-to-work laws.

Twenty-eight states have made it harder for workers to have a union by passing right-to-work laws. Sen. Gillibrand said that by making it harder for workers to have a union, those states have lowered wages.

“More and more states are passing harsh laws that make it harder for workers to negotiate for better wages and better treatment. Over the last few decades, this has done enormous damage to our country’s middle class and the communities where they live,” said Sen. Gillibrand. “The Protecting Workers and Improving Labor Standards Act would block so-called state ‘right-to-work’ laws, which have been used to systematically attack and weaken workers’ hard-earned right to have a voice in the workplace and negotiate as a group with their employers. When unions are weak, corporations have enormous negotiating power over their workers, and can keep wages so low that their full-time employees are living in poverty. It’s time to stand up for our workers and push back.”

Sen. Warren said that right-to-work laws have lowered labor standards and the that impact of those lower labor standards will be a topic of discussion during the negotiations on revising the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

“The (US) is in the middle of renegotiating NAFTA, which was a bad deal for American workers,” said Sen. Warren. “If we want to protect workers and expect a level playing field in international trade deals, we need to start at home – and that means banning states from imposing restrictions that prevent workers from joining together to fight for their future.”

In addition to Warren, Gillibrand, and Brown, other senators have signed on as co-sponsors of the Protect Workers and Improve Labor Standards Act. They are Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.).

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) said that he plans to introduce similar legislation in the House of Representatives.

“States with ‘right-to-work’ provisions have a stated goal of taking away jobs from other states by weakening unions and therefore lowering wages, only by ending so-called ‘right-to-work’ nationwide can we stop this race to the bottom.  That’s why I have introduced legislation in the House five times over the past decade to end ‘right-to-work’ laws nationwide, and in 2016 secured 48 House cosponsors,” said Rep. Sherman.  “There has never been a more critical time to pass this legislation because working families need a raise.”

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Canada: New NAFTA must include ban on so-called right-to-work laws

The second round of negotiations on changes to the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) convened on September 2  in Mexico City, and some unexpected news came out of the first session.

Canada demanded that any changes to NAFTA must include an agreement by the US to roll back anti-union right-to-work laws.

Canadian negotiators said that the so-called right-to-work laws, which have been enacted in 28 states, lower labor standards by making it more difficult for workers to form and maintain unions.

The Canadians also said that lower labor standards in the US and Mexico are costing Canada good-paying jobs and driving down living standards for Canadian workers.

The Canadians said that one of the things that the US could do to raise labor standards is to pass a federal law nullifying state right-to-work laws.

Doing so would increase unionization and give workers more bargaining power with their employers.

The Canadians also urged Mexico to discontinue government support for yellow unions, those unions more concerned with protecting employers’ interests than the interest of their members.

“I’m very pleased with the position the Canadian government is taking on labor standards,” said  Jerry Dias, president of Unifor, Canada’s largest labor union.” Canada’s got two problems: The low wage rates in Mexico and the right-to-work states in the United States.”

When round two of NAFTA negotiations began, Dias was in Mexico City to speak at a rally of workers and farmers opposed to NAFTA.

At the rally, Dias said that Mexican workers need a big pay raise and criticized the Mexican NAFTA negotiators for ignoring the concerns of Mexican workers.

“I don’t buy the argument that the Mexican negotiators are making that somehow we have to keep our citizens living in poverty in order to get jobs,” said Dias. “That’s a nonsense argument.”

Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, who is leading Canada’s delegation at the NAFTA negotiations, said that a new NAFTA had to be a fair NAFTA that benefits workers of all countries as well as business.

All of us want to come out of this negotiation being able to say to workers in our countries, ‘We have achieved a deal that will improve your standard of living’,” said Freeland. “That is an essential foundation for going forward.”  

Prior to the beginning of the negotiations on a new NAFTA, the Canadian government created a NAFTA Advisory Council to help the government shape its agenda for the negotiations.

One of the members of the advisory council is Hasan Yussuf, president of the Canadian Labor Congress, Canada’s national labor confederation.

Prior to the commencement of the NAFTA negotiations, he and other labor leaders met with representatives of Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to discuss a new NAFTA.

They told the prime minister that a new NAFTA should boost the living standards for workers in all of the countries affected.

In addition to ending so-called right-to-work laws in the US and yellow unions in Mexico, Dias said that a new NAFTA must contain a commitment by all countries involved to honor eight core conventions laid out by the International Labor Organization:

  • the freedom to join labor unions
  • the right to bargain collectively
  • freedom from forced labor
  • abolition of slavery
  • a minimum wage
  • abolition of the worst forms of child labor
  • equal pay for equal work
  • abolition of discrimination on the job

Speaking to reporters, Dias said that wages of Mexican auto workers were so low that many of them can’t afford to buy the cars they make.

Raising those wages would improve living standards for Mexican auto workers and make it more difficult for Canadian and US auto makers to move work to Mexico, which would improve living standards for US and Canadian workers.

In the US, labor activist were encouraged by the position taken by the Canadian government, especially its stance on right-to-work laws.

In Ohio which is shaping up to be the next battleground state for right-to-work legislation, Richard Dalton, business manager for International Union of Operating Engineers Local 18 was pleased to hear that Canadian negotiators wanted the new NAFTA to ban right-to-work laws.

“Canada is taking a bold step to do what’s right,” said Dalton. “Right-to-work is not only bad for American business, it’s bad for international businesses as well.”

Dias said that the Canadian government is serious about raising labor standards and ending anti-union laws like the US’ so-called right-to-work laws.

Dias told Bloomberg Politics that without improved labor standards for all workers, Canada will walk away from the negotiations.

“It’s a red line,” said Dias.

Court decision gives boost to fight against Missouri’s new anti-union law

The Missouri Court of Appeals for the Western District handed the state’s labor unions a victory on July 28 when it ruled against plaintiffs seeking to block a statewide referendum on the state’s new right-to-work law.

The Appeals Court overturned an earlier Circuit Court ruling that sided with opponents of the referendum. Opponents claimed that the summary of the referendum written by the secretary of state and approved by the state’s attorney general was unclear.

The Appeals Court acknowledged that there were some problems with the summary but that the problems did not affect its clarity.

The state AFL-CIO praised the Appeals Court’s ruling and said that it will continue collecting signatures on petitions to put the referendum on the November 2018 ballot.

The referendum will give Missouri voters the opportunity to veto the newly enacted right-to-work law.

If the AFL-CIO collects at least 100,126 valid signatures on the referendum petition before August 28 when the new law becomes effective, implementation of the new law will be delayed until after the election.

Gov. Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens in February signed the anti-union, right-to-work law after it was passed by the Republican dominated legislature.

Passage of the new law came after what the Kansas City Star described as “decades-long push by Republicans and business groups.”

The new law is called a right-to-work law, but it has little to do with protecting a person’s right to work. Its only purpose is to weaken unions.

The new law allows workers to enjoy the benefits of union membership–wages and benefits negotiated by a union, union grievance representation, etc.–without paying union dues.

Union dues provide resources that unions need to stand up for worker rights. Paying union dues is also an act of solidarity, and worker solidarity is the source of union power. Without it, the boss dictates the terms and conditions of employment.

Hours after Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens signed the law into effect, the state AFL-CIO and state NAACP filed for a referendum on the new law with the Missouri secretary of state.

The secretary of state wrote a summary of the proposed referendum and sent it to the attorney general for review.

After the review was complete, the secretary of state in March approved a petition for the referendum. The wording of the petition was based on the secretary of state’s summary.

In April, the AFL-CIO began collecting signatures on the petition.

In order to keep voters from voting on referendum, three plaintiffs represented by the National Right to Work Foundation filed suit charging that the secretary of state’s summary contained grammatical errors that made the purpose of the referendum unclear.

The National Right to Work Foundation is affiliated with the National Right to Work Committee, which is funded by Charles and David Koch, the Walton family, which owns Walmart, and other anti-union business people.

The reason that these business leaders want states to pass right to work laws is that workers in states that have right to work laws earn less money and have fewer benefits than their counterparts in non-right to work states.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, full-time, full-year workers in right-to-work states are paid $1558 a year less than comparable workers in states that do not have right-to-work laws.

Another study by EPI found that the rate of employers that offer health insurance benefits is 2.6 percent lower in right-to-work states than in non right-to-work states.

A Missouri Circuit Court in June heard the plaintiffs’ suit and ruled in their favor.

After the ruling, the AFL-CIO continued to circulate the referendum petition, but there was some question about how the judge’s ruling would affect the validity of the signatures gathered.

That question was rendered moot when the Appeals Court ruled against the plaintiffs and allowed the wording of the summary to stand.

Meanwhile, the union’s petition drive is entering its home stretch. The petitions must be submitted before August 28 when the new law goes into effect.

The AFL-CIO has scheduled petition mobilizations for the weekends that remain before the deadline.

After the Appeals Court announced it ruling, Mike Louis, president of the Missouri AFL-CIO told the St. Louis Post Dispatch that he was confident that the petition drive will succeed and that people will have a chance to vote on the new law in 2018.

Teamsters to UPS: “Get out of ALEC”

Hundreds of Teamsters demonstrated outside the national meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in San Diego to demand that UPS withdraw its support of ALEC.

The Teamsters called ALEC’s agenda “anti worker” and “anti union” and criticized UPS for donating $25,000 to sponsor ALEC’s national meeting.

“Global corporations like Coca Cola, Apple, McDonald’s and even Walmart have decided that continuing their relationship with this toxic organization is too dangerous to its brand,” said Ken Hall, president of the Teamster division that deals with UPS.  “It begs the question of why UPS, the largest unionized company in America, continues to associate with ALEC. It’s time for UPS to do the right thing for its workers and cut ties with ALEC.”

In the past, the Teamsters have identified ALEC as a key player in what the union calls the War on Workers.

ALEC serves as a conduit between corporate America and state legislators for right wing ideas that can be transformed into state law.

It holds regular gatherings where corporate lobbyists and state lawmakers mix and mingle.

It also writes model legislation that lawmakers can take back to their legislatures and try to get them passed into laws.

Many of these bills are aimed at lowering workers’ wages and benefits and weakening their unions. In addition, ALEC model legislation includes those that eliminate environmental and consumer protections, weaken public education, suppress voting, and raise taxes on the working class while lowering taxes for the wealthy and big corporations.

The recent spate of right to work (for less) bills that have popped up in state legislatures have ALEC fingerprints all over them.

So called right to work bills have little to do with protecting the right to work as the name implies; instead, their main aim is to lower wages.

They do so by making it more difficult for workers to form and maintain unions. Without a collective voice on the job that a union provides, it’s difficult for workers to win fair pay increases and protect their benefits.

Where right to work laws exists, unions are weaker and wages lower.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, “Wages in (right to work) states are 3.1 percent lower than those in non-right to work states,” which means that a typical full-time, full-year worker in a right to work state makes $1,558 a year less than her counterpart in a non-right to work state.

The legislature in Wisconsin recently passed a right to work bill that was taken almost verbatim from ALEC’s right to work model legislation.

ALEC’s right to work model legislation also served as a pattern for right to work legislation introduced in Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Kentucky, and West Virginia.

Right to work legislation isn’t the only way that ALEC model legislation seeks to lower worker pay.

According to Robert Reich, “the rise of independent contractors is the most significant legal trend in the American workforce–contributing directly to low pay, irregular hours, and job insecurity.”

Unions like the Teamsters have been fighting the misclassification of workers as independent contractors.

ALEC, however, has been on the other side of this fight. It has a model bill that it calls the Independent Contractor Definition Act, which would make it easier for employers to misclassify their workers as independent contractors.

Prior to the San Diego demonstration, the Teamsters international office sent a letter to locals urging them to distribute a union flyer about the relationship between UPS and ALEC.

The flyer concludes by saying, “It’s time to ask UPS why it is still in bed with an organization that writes, distributes, and lobbies for laws that are solely designed to hurt working families.”

At the rally in San Diego, Teamsters held signs that read, “ALEC Bad for UPS, Worse for You” and “California Is a No ALEC Zone.”

Randy Cammack, president of Teamster Joint Council 42 in Southern California, told those at the rally to make sure that UPS’ representative at the ALEC meeting heard what the Teamsters had to say.

The demonstrators replied by chanting, “UPS, get out of ALEC! UPS, get out of ALEC! UPS, get out of ALEC!”

Michigan poised to become 24th right to work for less state

Thousands of workers wearing red will gather Tuesday in Lansing, Michigan’s state capital, to try to head off an attempt by Republican governor Rick Snyder and a lame duck legislature to make Michigan a right to work for less state.

On December 6, Gov. Snyder, state senate majority leader Randy Richardville, and house speaker Jase Bolger, all Republicans, announced that they intended to make Michigan the 24th right to work for less state in the US. Within hours of the announcement, the state senate and house had passed appropriations bills that included so called right to work legislation.

There were no committee hearings and no chance for the public to provide formal testimony about the consequences of enacting such legislation.

The bills that came out of the house and senate still need to be reconciled, and a vote on a reconciled version of the two bills will to take place on Tuesday. Gov. Snyder said that he will sign the final version of the bill.

Labor unions and Working Michigan, a progressive coalition of community, religious, and labor groups, hope that a massive turnout of union members and supporters on Tuesday will convince the legislature and Gov. Snyder to reconsider their decision.

Under the federal Taft Hartley law, state’s have the authority to enact legislation that has commonly come to be known as a right to work law. So-called right to work laws allow employees who enjoy the benefits of union contracts and services provided by dues paying members such as grievance representation to refuse to pay union dues.

The purpose of these laws is to make it more difficult for union workers to bargain collectively and enforce contracts that have been negotiated.

According to Working Michigan, workers in so-called right to work states earn about $1,500 less a year than comparable workers in states that do not have such laws.

The right to work for less vote was the second big setback this year for Michigan workers. Unions in Michigan tried to pass an amendment to the state constitution making collective bargaining a right guaranteed by the constitution. A referendum on the amendment held on Election Day was badly defeated.

Sensing a weakness after the referendum defeat, Republican’s moved swiftly to make Michigan a right to work state before the next session of the legislature convenes.

The Michigan Legislature that passed the two bills is composed of members who will not be returning when the next session of the legislature convenes in January. Some lost re-election bids; some are retiring.

As a result, Republicans will have a narrower majority, and it will be more difficult to pass laws that make it harder for workers to bargain collectively, which has been especially high on the Republican agenda since 2010.

Union leaders thought that Republicans might try to pass some kind of anti-worker legislation during the lame duck session and tried to mobilize members in advance. But the swiftness of the lawmakers’ actions on Thursday, seems to have caught the union leaders off guard.

Over the weekend, opponents of the proposed legislation regrouped and called for Tuesday’s mobilization.

Should the proposed legislation become law, it will be very difficult for unions to repeal it. Lawmakers included right to work language in appropriation acts, which are not subject to a referendum vote.

Making repeal even more problematic is the fact that a recent poll found that 54 percent of Michigan voters support right to work legislation.

The United Auto Workers called the legislation  a “devastating blow to the middle class in Michigan” designed “to flatten wages and crush workers rights.”

Working Michigan said that

In the wake of this legislation, the only ‘freedom’ gained for Michigan workers will be the freedom to make less, the freedom to be disrespected at work, the freedom to struggle to pay their bills, and the freedom to be left out of the American dream. This bill is a blatant attempt by the richest in Michigan to silence the voices of working families in our democracy, build their own power, and make the growing gap between the rich and everyone else even bigger.

The proposed law will not affect contracts that are already in place; however, as contracts in the public and private sector expire and new contracts are negotiated, they will reflect the change.